Last edited: December 08, 2004

House Votes to Repeal Law Banning 'Abominable' Sex

The Newport Daily News, May 8, 1998
P.O. Box 420, Newport, RI 02840

By Joe Baker, Daily News Staff

PROVIDENCE --The House of Representatives Thursday approved legislation eliminating a 100-year-old law banning sodomy between consenting adults.

The bill now goes to the Sentate, where supporters have the votes to get it passed, said House sponsor, Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence.

"I can breathe again," said Ajello, who has sponsored the bill for the past six years. "I feel great."

Thursday's 49-to-40 vote followed weeks of apprehension for supporters. The bill was originally scheduled for debate two weeks ago, but was held over by Ajello because she was trying to avoid a contentious floor debate. Rep. Harold Metts, D-Providence, had said he would try to amend the bill to ban sodomy--legally called "abominable and detestable crimes against nature"--in public places. sodomy is defined as oral or anal sex.

Ajello said the state's disorderly conduct statute already outlaws public sex, and Metts was just trying to gut the bill. Ajello came prepared Thursday. After she introduced the bill, she proposed amending the disorderly conduct law to outlaw all public sex, including intercourse and masturbation.

But Ajello pulled her amendment when Rep. Robert Flaherty, D-Warwick, asked that the bill be sent back to committee because the amendment dealt with a different section of the law.

Metts, the only lawmaker to speak against the bill, said he decided not to submit his amendment after praying and fasting. He read extensively from the Bible to support his contention that sodomy should remain illegal, he said.

"We need to keep the old landmarks and I don't want to compromise with the devil," Metts said.

Metts also said the law has never been enforced against married adults.

But selective enforcement was the problem, Ajello said. She quoted former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said: "It's revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that it was laid down in the tenure of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds on which it was laid had vanished long since and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past."

Some handicapped people perform sex acts that are considered illegal because they cannot have sex in other ways, some lawmakers said.

Rep. Denise Aiken-Salandria, D-Warwick, said she works with people with spinal cord injuries, many of whom are veterans.

"I think it's one hell of a thing for us here in Rhode Island to tell people who have made a huge sacrifice for this country, 'Thanks for your sacrifice" and then your government says 'Your love is abominable,' " she said.

County senators voting for the bill were: Reps. Paul W. Crowley, D-Newport; Charles J. Levesque, D-Portsmouth; George R. Levesque, D-Jamestown; Hubert E. Little, D-Portsmouth; Bruce J. Long, R-Middletown; and Maxine Bradford Shavers, D-Newport. Voting against the bill were Reps. Joseph N. Amaral, R- Tiverton, and Joan B. Quick, R-Little Compton. Rep. Christine H. Callahan, R- Middletown, was absent from the session.

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